Hundreds of farmers sign up for new green payment scheme pilot
- Credit: Denise Bradley
More than 200 East Anglian farmers have signed up to trial a new environmental payment scheme, set to replace subsidies being phased out after Brexit.
The Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) is one of three tiers of the government's post-Brexit Environmental Land Management System (ELMS), which aims to replace the existing EU system of land-based subsidies with a new one rewarding farmers for providing "public goods" such as enhancing habitats and reducing carbon emissions.
The SFI will be the first to be piloted, and Defra has confirmed that of the 2,178 farmers expressing an interest in the first phase, 217 came from East Anglia.
They will all now be invited to make a full application, and Defra says it wants 1,000 farmers with live pilot agreements in place from the autumn, when the required standards will be chosen and applied to farmers' land. More guidance is due to be published shortly, said Defra.
One of the Norfolk applicants eagerly awaiting those details is Jake Fiennes, head of conservation at the Holkham estate and a member of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) environment forum.
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"We want to help them [Defra] develop this in a way that works with farmers while still delivering the ambition for public goods," he said.
"To have participation in this, the incentive has got to be there. We have got to value nature at a price that gives farmers and land occupiers the incentive to buy into it.
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"We have vague indications of the payment rates for the SFI, and they are similar to the existing stewardship agreements. That is where the problem is. If I take a hectare of land and put it into stewardship I might get £500/ha, but on top of that I have also got direct support [under the current Basic Payment Scheme] so it is actually more like £700/ha - and they have not made that connection."
Another farmer whose expression of interest was accepted is Luke Paterson of Dilham Hall Farms, near North Walsham.
"I don't mind being a guinea pig, and it is always good to get an early look at something new," he said.
"It seems like the direction of travel from government is less about food production and more about things like water and air quality, so it will be interesting to see what they are thinking.
"I have done my own carbon audit here and overall we are sequestering carbon, so we are already delivering towards 'net zero' carbon targets. I feel I am ticking that box, so now I want to see how I can leverage funds for that."